Waupaca library faces challenges
Shrinking finances, shifting needs
By Robert Cloud
The pandemic and inflation have impacted the Waupaca Area Public Library’s circulation numbers and ability to purchase new materials, according to the annual report presented to the Waupaca Common Council Tuesday, April 18.
Holly Olsen, president of the Waupaca Library Board, told the council that the library’s “circulation dropped the year covid started.”
In 2019, the library circulated about 250,000 items, including print books, e-books, audio, videos and other materials.
In 2022, circulation dropped to 171,850 items.
Of the lost circulation, 62% was attributed to video, 28% to books and 10% to audio.
“These items were on decline due to streaming before the pandemic hit,” Olsen said.
Dropping circulation was reported throughout the Outagamie-Waupaca Library System (OWLS), Olsen said.
Among the most popular items circulating at the Waupaca library are e-books, print books and e-audio materials.
“The public has access to over 330,365 materials, over 18,000 more than we had reported in the 2021 year,” Olsen said.
As part of its mission, the library seeks to “bridge the digital divide” in the community, by offering access to equipment and the internet in-house or through check-out.
The library has seven laptops and 11 Wi-Fi spots that patrons may borrow. There are also public-use computers at the library.
“We know that the library is used as an information center to the community and the internet is increasingly used for job applications, applying for benefits, Social Security, medical provider shopping and filing taxes,” Olsen said.
Among the trends Olsen noted, the library sees and increased need for study and meeting rooms.
She noted that 7,411 people have Waupaca library cards and 2,950 of them live within the city of Waupaca.
After the covid hiatus, the library resumed many of its programs for children, teens and adults in 2022.
In 2022, the library hosted 190 children programs with attendance of 8,691, 36 teen programs with attendance of 539, and 28 adult programs with attendance of 390.
Eric Bailey, who became the library’s director in the summer of 2022, said 95% of the library’s revenues come from tax dollars.
The city of Waupaca provides 52% of library funding, while Waupaca County provides 41% and Waushara County provides 2%.
In 2016, the Waupaca Area Public Library received $829,517 in revenues. Revenues have remained virtually steady, totalling $824,116 in 2022.
Noting that the rate of inflation between January 2016 and February 2023 has been nearly 27%, Bailey said the library’s actual purchasing power has been reduced to $653,000 in that time.
Bailey also pointed to the library’s need to purchase various formats of the same item.
Instead of purchasing a book when it is published, the library must purchase the printed book, the audio book, the e-book, an e-audio book and a Playaway to meet the diverse needs of the community.
In addition to materials in its collection, “the set of services we’re asked to provide continues to grow more diverse,” Bailey said.
As local job centers close, including the one in Waupaca, libraries have taken on the role of providing resources for people looking for work, Bailey noted.
Bailey said the library tries to close the gap between revenues and expenditures it reduces its purchase of new materials and reduces staff hours.
“Materials continue to decrease as a percentage of the budget,” Bailey said.
Bailey outlined the library’s goals for the future.
• Improve outreach and engagement with the community, including new non-English speaking residents and beyond the building;
• Working smarter, using technology and outside the box thinking to find new efficiencies;
• Advocacy to the community, using numbers and stories to tell the library’s successes and needs;
• Identify and pursue new revenue sources.